Five commissioners do right by the public; who'll be next?
By Michael Lewis
Give credit where credit is due.
Last week, five Miami-Dade commissioners who oppose a bid to weaken their powers nonetheless broke with the commission majorityís costly move to derail a referendum on change.
Regardless of whether they did so to protect the publicís rights or to deflect attacks on commission meddling, the five did the right thing.
Who would have believed it?
Here's the background:
Mayor Carlos Alvarez wants to grab vital powers. His drive to put the issue on the ballot succeeded. Foes failed repeatedly to block the case in court. Law requires commissioners to schedule a citizen vote.
Instead, the county has been sued, which commissioners plainly welcome. They voted 7-5 last week to hire out-of-town lawyers who quickly said the county will lose the case & blocking citizens from voting.
Call it a fix, and you're not far off.
But while all 13 commissioners detest the mayor's initiative, five did the right thing & Carlos Gimenez, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Katy Sorenson and Rebeca Sosa.
"We should not disenfranchise voters based on a technicality," Ms. Sorenson said before the commission voted last week. "I disagree with the strong-mayor item, but I say move forward with the campaign. Do not discourage voters from petitioning their government."
She's absolutely correct, on all counts. Voters have the right to put a measure on the ballot. They followed standard practice. They deserve to get a countywide vote.
And, as Ms. Sorenson indicated, the measure is a bad idea. A petition drive is the wrong way to revolutionize county government, and this is the wrong change.v
A proper forum would be to convene a charter-review panel that deliberates openly, thinks broadly and seeks relevant evidence from all sorts of interests. That didn't happen & though it's not too late to start now.
Change is clearly needed. Commissioners, now elected by votes from just their home district, should be based in a district but face countywide voting to lessen parochialism. They should get adequate pay. A charter review might also consider limiting commission terms and outside employment. Other change may be appropriate.
What isn't appropriate is that a still-undisclosed group crafted a revolution now headed for the ballot.
Nonetheless, that proposal is legal and meets all requirements for a vote by the public. The claim that 40-plus pages of background should have been attached to petitions freely signed in shopping centers and at bus stops is pure hokum. Signers weren't focused on details & they just saw the commission fumbling government away. Who could blame them for seeking the wrong solution to an obvious problem?
Five commissioners recognized that the result of the petition drive, which is a public referendum, is legal if not wise. They voted accordingly.
But they lost, as did the taxpayers, who now are paying a Tallahassee firm $325 an hour for goodness knows how many attorneys to replace a county attorney's office that already gets more than $22 million a year to defend the county's interests. And the hired firm plans to lose in a hearing Monday.
That means when commissioners meet Tuesday, they'll be able to avoid putting the issue on the ballot by Jan. 24, as now required, using the lost lawsuit as an excuse.
You don't have to be in the mayorís camp & certainly the five commissioners arenít & to stand up for the rights of citizens the county charter guarantees. The petitioners exercised those rights and succeeded & only to have the commission majority try to change the rules in mid-game.
That's the kind of sorry performance that fuels the mayor's misguided power grab. Thank goodness five commissioners had the courage to recognize the rights of citizens over the power of commissioners.
Any of the other eight willing to cross the line and do the right thing?