Mayor should make a three-step leap into leadership role
By Michael Lewis
In vetoing a misguided transit bailout, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has taken his first leadership step.
Now we need the second. He should block a plan to prevent oversight of $2.9 billion in infrastructure bonding.
And if he's thoughtful, he'll take a third stride by reversing his own plan to make himself in effect county manager as well as mayor.
In vetoing a vote on shifting transit monies, the mayor killed legislation for the first time. It's a major weapon to counterbalance the commission's power, which became almost absolute while predecessor Alex Penelas concentrated on a Senate bid. Mr. Alvarez served notice that it won't be the same on his watch.
Significantly, he used his powers wisely. County Manager George Burgess wanted to take sales taxes designated for expanding transit to instead pay operating losses. But that would break faith with voters, who already had been misled at the polls when county leaders hid transit shortfalls.
Commissioners would be wise not to resuscitate the vetoed bait and switch. They should instead channel energies in concert with Mr. Burgess to erase the shortfall without sending voters another loud message that government doesn't keep its word.
Mr. Burgess didn't create the transit mess. He inherited it. But it's his job to find a solution and sell it to the commission and the mayor, his bosses.
On the other hand, Mr. Burgess himself drafted a plan to block appointed advisors from protecting or commenting on spending of general obligation bond funds. Under his plan, appointees could not even comment on how money was spent unless the commission asked for input. That plan is now in the commission's hands.
If commissioners unwisely OK this blatant trick to spend willy-nilly despite a 344-point program promised to voters and the vow of oversight, the mayor should sharpen his veto pencil and keep the trust.
The mayor, however, also tried bait and switch. He ran vowing to end the commission's role in contracts. That resonated with voters who had watched commissioners meddle in already-approved bids, thus escalating costs and enriching packs of lobbyists after clients lost bidding contests fair and square.
But the mayor didn't tell us until after he won that he intended to personally direct the bosses of experts who award contracts, thus shifting the potential for meddling from commissioners to himself.
The mayor now says he wants to direct department heads, removing the buffer of a manager between professionals and the political commission chamber and the mayor's office. He wants a role that the charter now reserves for the manager.
We have an elected political head, an elected political legislative body and an appointed and intentionally non-political administrator, the manager. The mayor wants the manager's role too, and his team is raising money to that end.
The mayor still hasn't put this plan on paper. That means contributors are signing blank checks.
That ambiguity, however, leaves Mr. Alvarez space to turn the issue to both his and taxpayers' advantage. He can propose to amend the charter to properly sever procurement from the commission without then improperly tying contracts to the mayor.
In Washington, neither the President nor Congress touches purchasing. Decisions are left to impartial specialists.
In Tallahassee, neither the governor nor the Legislature touches purchasing. Decisions are left to impartial specialists.
Likewise, in Miami-Dade, neither the mayor nor the commission should touch purchasing. Decisions should be left to impartial specialists.
Commissioners, who woo voters, should not face pressure to steer contracts to supporters.
The mayor, who woos voters, likewise should not face pressure to steer contracts to supporters.
Let the professionals spend. Let the commission set policies under which spending takes place. The mayor can then lead in broad county direction and vision.
The mayor says he lacks the power to fulfill that role. But consider this: by combining his leadership clout and his veto power, he has just put the entire transit program back on track. Using those same powers, he can preserve oversight of general obligation bond funds.
Voters elected Mr. Alvarez to be a forceful visionary. They did not elect an impartial administrator. That's the manager's role, unfettered by an overreaching mayor.
Mr. Alvarez has plenty of room to lead without being manager too. He took a great first step for transit. He can take a great second step for bond oversight. And he can take a great third step in masterminding a shift of contract control from the commission to the manager, not himself.