Petition drive will seek more clout for proposed aviation authority
By Susan Stabley
Miami business leaders are reviewing a plan to create an airport authority that they say would give the agency more power than the proposal a county committee rejected last week.
Since 1996 the county commission has quashed five attempts to transfer day-to-day operations of the county's five airports to an appointed board. Now, proponents are turning to a petition drive that would place the issue on a countywide ballot.
"Without a doubt this is the best route to take and the one that will result in the best product," said Mario Artecona, Miami Business Forum executive director, who with others on Monday was still tweaking a proposal.
He said this version would be "very similar" to one presented to the commission in November, which he also helped draft, yet stronger than the attempt sponsored by Commissioner Jimmy Morales, which a committee killed last week in a 3-2 vote.
"We don't want to tie the hands of the authority," Mr. Artecona said.
This draft resembles recommendations a 15-member group made last year, he said. Commission Chair Barbara Carey-Shuler presented that plan in November, then withdrew it when it appeared it lacked the needed votes.
Tuesday, Mr. Morales said he anticipated the proposed in the new petition drive would be designed as "more independent" than what has been presented in the past.
Mr. Morales, a candidate for mayor, also said creation of an independent authority will be one of his campaign issues and he will probably support the petition drive once the proposal is unveiled.
"Gathering signatures is not easy," he said, but added, "I think there is a lot of community interest in this issue - more interest than people think."
His comments follow remarks by committee members who killed last week's proposal.
Dennis Moss, in opposition, said the push for an authority came from a small group of business interests, not from a grass-roots community effort. Commissioners Moss, Bruno Barreiro and Joe Martinez voted against the plan, while Mr. Morales and Betty Ferguson voted in favor.
Mr. Morales noted that in the past the public had approved fund uses on referenda that did not have commission support.
The authority, he said, is "worthy of community-wide discussion."
Gilbert Cabrera, a spokesman for Ms. Carey-Shuler, said she would support the petition effort. So will Mayor Alex Penelas, said spokeswoman Lynn Norman-Teck.
Mr. Artecona said he will push for the petition drive by early March. To get the issue on the ballot as an ordinance, advocates need signatures from 4% of the county's 944,000 registered voters within a 60-day window, according to the Miami-Dade Elections Department. Or, supporters could push to make the authority part of the county charter, in which case 10% of voters' signatures are needed.
If voters support the authority as a charter amendment, it can only be revoked by another ballot issue. If it passes as an ordinance, the county commission could repeal it after one year.
Mr. Artecona said he expects the drive to cost $500,000.