County Commissioner To Push For Elected Sheriffs Post
Written by Dan Dolan on February 22, 2007
By Dan Dolan
Less than a month after voters gave Miami-Dade County’s mayor broad new authority, County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping proposal to take away the chief executive’s police powers and restore the post of an elected county sheriff.
But Mr. Diaz said his initiative isn’t an attempt to curb the mayor’s authority. He said his intent is to make government more responsive to the public.
"This isn’t about politics," Mr. Diaz said. "I’m doing this because people have asked me to propose this type of reform. This is a change the people want."
Mr. Diaz said he has asked County Attorney Murray Greenberg to draft legislation that would put the issue on the fall ballot. He said creating a post for an elected sheriff would require a vote to change the county charter, the local equivalent of the US Constitution.
"If this passes, Miami-Dade’s police force would work for the sheriff, not the mayor," Mr. Diaz said. "Right now, all our police officers are sheriff’s deputies. It says so on their badges because they’re county officers and we had a sheriff before."
Until the county charter was revised in 1957, Miami had an elected sheriff. The office was eliminated as part of a change to the county-manager form of government scrapped by voters last month.
Mr. Diaz said voters are ready to embrace other changes, too. He is drafting legislation to alter the charter to make the county’s tax collector, property appraiser and election supervisor elected rather than appointed positions.
"These proposals are perfectly legal but would require charter amendments," Mr. Greenberg said. "If voters approve these changes, then we’d have a sheriff and more elected officials."
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said Mr. Diaz’ proposal would eliminate the need for his own controversial legislation to strip away a portion of the mayor’s police powers. Mr. Gimenez’ measure, scheduled for a final vote next month, would put the Miami-Dade Police Department’s official corruptions investigations under the control of state or federal law-enforcement agencies.
"Unless we pass my legislation, we’re asking the police chief to investigate his own boss," Mr. Gimenez said. "But if we have a separate elected sheriff, there wouldn’t be that issue."
Mr. Gimenez said he’d take a wait-and-see stance on Mr. Diaz’ plans, which will be introduced in legislative form next month. However, he said he would prefer to have the proposal studied by a charter-review task force scheduled to be created by the county commission next month.
"Because this involves substantial changes to Miami-Dade’s government, I think Mr. Diaz’ proposals should have thorough input from the community," Mr. Gimenez said. "I’m not opposed to the concept of an elected sheriff. We’re the only county in Florida without one. But the creation of the office should be transparent. Many people criticized the mayor’s charter-change initiative because it was created behind closed doors."