Miami may give complete review to city charter
By Eric Kalis
Miami city officials are considering a complete review of the city's charter in response to a request last week by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
City Manager Pete Hernandez told Mr. Sarnoff last week that he would work with the District 2 commissioner to form a charter-review committee. The panel would be able to make recommendations to city commissioners to amend any portion of the charter.
While commissioners can place a proposed charter amendment on an election ballot, it would not become official until a majority of residents approve the amendment.
Mr. Sarnoff said he was inspired to propose a charter-review committee after recommending a specific charter change regarding staff bonuses issued by outgoing elected officials. When Mr. Sarnoff's predecessor, Linda Haskins, left office late last year, she requested $25,000 in bonuses for her staff members, which Mr. Hernandez approved.
The charter should be amended to require the City Commission's approval of bonus requests by departing commissioners, Mr. Sarnoff said.
"The laws should be clear," he said. Commissioners "should be the arbiters of city staff bonuses. I am trying to protect an outgoing commissioner's invasion of the incoming commissioner's budget."
City Attorney Jorge Fernandez said he will draft an ordinance for first reading March 8 that would change the process for issuing staff bonuses. The city manager appoints city staffers, Mr. Fernandez said, but the proposed charter amendment would allow commissioners to publicly vote on a bonus request.
A commissioner's staffer could be approved for a bonus only if the employee's performance exceeds the city's established standards and the request does not exceed the commissioner's annual budget, he said.
An exiting commissioner should have time limitations for seeking bonuses, Mr. Sarnoff said. Ms. Haskins made her request to the city manager during her last day in office. In that situation, the incoming commissioner "inherits a deficit," he said. "That should not be done at the last minute. This legislation would allow the commission to approve that type of increase."
If the commission approves the ordinance in two readings, a charter amendment would be brought to voters.
Instead of examining each charter issue individually, the city should have a committee review the whole charter to bring it up to date, Mr. Sarnoff said. The most recent review occurred in 2001.
The city charter should include a bill of rights, which many other South Florida cities have, Mr. Sarnoff said.
"I do not want to put a Band-Aid on this," Mr. Sarnoff said. "If we can have an entire charter review, we should do it. The charter lacks a bill of rights. To me, we need an organic review and committee."