County commission decision on charter review due
By Dan Dolan
With next month's referendum on a switch to a strong mayor form of government looming in the background, the Miami-Dade County Commission's government reform committee is poised to create a new charter review task force today (12/14).
Under a plan sponsored by Commissioner Katy Sorenson, Miami-Dade's county charter, the local equivalent of the US Constitution, would get a stem-to-stern examination by 14-member panel appointed by the mayor and the commission.
At the end of the process, which would include public hearings, the panel could recommend changes in the rules used to run county government — or suggest things stay exactly as they are.
"It's time for us to take another look at how things run," said Ms. Sorenson, who noted the current version of the county charter mandates a review every five years. "This is especially important in light of the incredible growth we've experienced since the last charter review in 2001 and the upcoming strong mayor referendum."
If voters approve the strong mayor plan Jan. 23, the charter would be automatically changed to give an elected executive broad day-to-day administrative powers currently held by the county manager. Among other things, the mayor would be allowed to hire and fire department heads, which is currently forbidden by the charter.
"This could open up a whole range of issues," said Ms. Sorenson, who served on the 2001 charter review panel. "Right now, we don't know where this will lead us."
Commissioner Natacha Seijas has already called for a charter review panel to look at her plan to slash the mayor's salary from $229,000 to $120,000 a year.
Ms. Sorenson said a charter review committee might also consider scrapping individual commission districts and recommend a return to the old system of at-large commission elections. It might suggest expanding — or curtailing — powers held by the mayor or the county commission, she said.
The 2001 charter review resulted in significant changes in the way county business is done, she said. As a result of that study, the mayor lost the power to appoint the commission chairman and create commission committees.
Now, the commission elects its own chairman to a two-year term. The chairman now creates all committees and names officials to the panels.
"We have to look at all phases of our government," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said. "A charter review task force gives us an opportunity to reform government. It's a good thing."
Members of the commission's Internal Management & Fiscal Responsibility Committee, which is charged with streamlining government, expect Ms. Sorenson's proposal to pass without opposition today. If that happens, it will be sent to the entire commission for final approval Dec. 19, a date that coincides with a special election to recall Commissioner Seijas.
Ms. Sorenson said it would take at least 18 months for a charter review task force to issue its findings.
For any charter changes to be made based on the review, the county commission would have to place task force recommendations on a referendum ballot for countywide voting. Commissioners would also have the opportunity to modify or delete recommendations.