Economic development services live on after City of Miami department's death
By Risa Polansky
After commissioners in September eliminated the City of Miami's Department of Economic Development to free up money to hire more law enforcement officials, the city has managed to both fund 10 police officers and maintain some of the services offered by the department, city Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring said.
Though the city's Web site now displays an "Economic Initiatives" homepage that lists programs and departmental staff, Mr. Spring said this does not mean the department lives.
"It's just a logistical thing," he said. "We just need a place for information for now."
Administrators eliminated eight positions in the former department, he said, as well as killed its supplies budget, funneling more than $1 million toward law enforcement as commissioners asked.
Some of the programs administrators deemed vital, such as anti-poverty initiative ACCESS — Assets, Capital, Community, Education, Savings and Success — Miami and Brownfields revitalization, are now being managed out of the city's Department of Community Development, he said, and others out of the city manager's office.
Staffers have been relocated concurrently, he said.
All can still be found at http://www.miamigov.com/economicdevelopment.
Former department head Lisa Mazique serves now in the city manager's office as an adviser for economic development initiatives.
She and other staffers filled vacant, but still funded, positions within other city departments, according to a city spokesman, allowing the salaries budgeted for economic development to contribute to police rather than new salaries for old employees.
A consultant advised the city to eliminate the department early last year, citing redundancies with other local economic development engines like the Downtown Development Authority and Miami-Dade County's Beacon Council.
But "I would not agree with that," Mr. Spring said.
The city works on the "local level," he said, focusing on "small businesses, job creation" while the "Beacon Council tries to get Fortune 500 companies to come to the region, not necessarily the City of Miami."
Consultant Chuck D'Aprix, principal of the Washington, DC-based Economic Development Visions, said in September that "it became crystal clear to me the city could be saving a ton of money if it got rid of the economic development department. There is so much redundant programming in Miami-Dade County."
The Downtown Development Authority, he said, is staffed with "top-notch talent" and "cuts a pretty wide swath through the city."
The Beacon Council, the county's public-private economic development arm, "arguably is one of the most prestigious economic development entities in the country," he said.
Mr. D'Aprix's months-long analysis, he said, made it "abundantly clear to me there was no need for an economic development department in the City of Miami."
Downtown Development Authority head Dana Nottingham stressed a need for citywide economic services after the department's elimination in the fall.
"It's very important that our city has an overarching economic strategy and agenda and that downtown play an important part in advancing that agenda," he said. "The downtown authority's focus is on downtown, whereas the city's economic development office should properly focus on all areas of the city."
Maintaining programs in other city departments achieved two objectives, Mr. Spring said: boosting safety and continuing to bolster economic development in the community.
"We were able to get another 10 police officers funded," he said. "That was their (commissioners') goal."
During budgeting in the fall, administrators and Mayor Manny Diaz touted $53 million in cuts, equal to the 9% reduction required by most Florida cities as a result of statewide property tax reform measures.
But the city simultaneously channeled $22 million toward police and parks back into the budget, capitalizing on a loophole that exempt the city from the steep cuts.
Commissioners supported the emphasis on safety and law enforcement, unanimously approving the budget.