County charter task force endorses switch to elected property appraiser
By Wayne Tompkins
The Miami-Dade County Charter Review Task Force last week voted to recommend direct election of the county property appraiser and reviewed its interim report to county commissioners, containing several recommendations to change — or not change — the county's 50-year-old Home Rule document.
The interim report, scheduled to be adopted at the task force's Oct. 31 meeting, is being filed as a condition to allow the 21-member task force to extend its work another 90 days, until Jan. 29, when its final report is due.
Among the recommendations so far include making county commissioners full-time employees prohibited from outside employment, raising their pay from $6,000 to about $89,000 a year and limiting them to two four-year terms.
The commission would remain in its current form of 13 single-member districts — no at large districts would be added — and the offices of police director, elections supervisor and tax collector would remain appointed positions.
During their Oct. 17 meeting, task force members voted 12-4 to recommend that the county property appraiser be directly elected by voters. Miami-Dade is currently the only one of the state's 67 counties to appoint that office.
The vote came after commissioners, who must approve task force recommendations before they go before voters in a future election, themselves moved forward in committee a resolution to amend the charter to elect the property appraiser.
The commission's action seemed to leapfrog the task force's own debate on the issue, leaving at least one task force member incensed.
"It shows what the commission really thinks about this group," said Murray Greenberg, the recently retired county attorney. "I just feel like I'm wasting my time. I think we all are. ůMaybe they should just
Task force member Miguel DeGrandy reminded the group that the task force deadlocked 6-6 on an earlier vote over electing the property appraiser.
"We failed to move the ball," Mr. DeGrandy said. "The commission was within its rights to proceed." The former state legislator was appointed to the task force by Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who is sponsoring the commission resolution.
Task Force Chairman Victor Diaz Jr. said communication needs to be improved between commissioners and task force members, 13 of whom were appointed by the individual commissioners, to avoid such incidents in the future.
"We need to make sure there is a constant dialogue," he said.
In voting to recommend the election of the property appraiser, a majority of members were responding to public anger and anxiety over rising costs of keeping their homes. Supporters felt an elected property appraiser would be at least nominally more accountable to the public and that an election could spawn what Mr. Diaz called "an educational process" for voters on how property assessment works. Mr. Diaz voted against the proposal, however.
A minority of dissenters warned that electing the property appraiser would amount to little more than a feel-good gesture because a county appraiser — elected or otherwise — must follow strict state guidelines for setting appraisals.
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.
The 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's next meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Oct. 31 at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 W. Flagler St.