Charter panel endorses status quo on offices
By Wayne Tompkins
The Supervisor of Elections and Property Appraiser should remain appointed offices in Miami-Dade County, but commissioners should be able to remove them with a two-thirds vote, the Charter Review Task Force decided last week in a preliminary recommendation.
The vote came a week after the task force decided to keep the county's top law enforcement official and tax collector as appointed positions as well, leaving Miami-Dade as the only county not to directly elect the four offices.
The Miami-Dade County commission has given the task force until Oct. 31 to complete its review of the county's charter, which is the equivalent to a constitution. Ultimately, proposed changes to the charter would go before the voters as soon as the Jan. 29 presidential preference election if the county commission decides to put them on the ballot.
The preservation of — and threats to — diversity in positions of power has emerged as a central issue of the task force's discussions in a county were about 60% of the population is Hispanic and blacks and non-hispanic whites roughly split the remainder.
Task force member and civil rights attorney H.T. Smith has been especially vocal in protecting African-American interests, which he fears countywide elected offices would dilute.
"What we are trying to do is share power," Mr. Smith said. In a direct election, "Sixty percent of the population is going to get 100% of the spoils 100% of the time."
Mr. Smith conceded that if blacks had 60% of the population, "We would say "let's vote' also. We have to resist the temptation of taking over."
However, with public emotions still running high over property assessments, the vote on the property appraiser failed only by a 6-6 tie, with nine of 21 members absent. The 12 members present decided to hold a revote on the issue at a future meeting when more members are present.
The task force also recommended allowing the county commission to remove the sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor by a two-thirds majority, or nine votes. The tax collector would continue to serve at the pleasure of the mayor.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto and Ignacio Jesus Vazquez, a career Miami-Dade police officer and former Sweetwater police chief, have been staunch supporters of electing the four offices.
"I don't just mingle with the rich and famous… the wine and cheese crowd," Mr. Souto said in a broadside to the prominent attorneys and politicians who make up much of the task force. "People want to see elections. This room is for the status-quo. If we don't listen to the people, we have a big problem."
Acting task force chair Maurice Ferre emphasized the task force's recommendations are only preliminary and that its final recommendations will not be made until late in the process.
"We have a long, long way to go before any of this will become reality," he said.
In addition to its regular meetings, the task force's workshops have used interactive technology to gather public input.
The task force has adopted more than a dozen topics to review for possible changes, including the addition of at-large districts to the Miami-Dade County Commission — a proposal that Mayor Carlos Alvarez backs but the Miami-Dade chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposes, fearing it will diminish African-American influence on the commission. Also on the discussion list: term limits for elected officials, the balance of power between the mayor and commissioners and procurement reforms.
The task force's membership consists of one member appointed by each of the commissioners, one by Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez, one by each of the county's four largest cities and three by the League of Cities, representing smaller municipalities.
This review, required by the charter to be held every five years, is the first since Miami-Dade County adopted the strong-mayor form of government in January. Proposed changes — if adopted — could alter the balance of power between Mayor Alvarez and the 13-member commission.
The task force is to meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.
The task force's Web site is www.miamidade.gov/charterreview