Miami-Dade County commissioner miffed after manager snuffs procurement oaths proposal
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess lobbied to kill a procurement reform ordinance proposed by Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez, a move the commissioner says usurped the committee process where matters are aired and discussed.
The action by Mr. Burgess, a county employee who works for Mayor Carlos Alvarez, effectively quashed debate Jan. 22 on the proposal by Mr. Gimenez for vendors and county staff to be under oath when making presentations to the commission on bid awards.
The proposal by Mr. Gimenez would have required anyone, including county employees, to take an oath when the award of county contracts comes up for discussion before committees or the 13-member commission.
But the proposed ordinance didn't make it to committee or commission debate. Commissioners rejected it by a 4-6 vote on first reading. Under commission rules, no debate is allowed in the first reading of proposed ordinances. And the state's Sunshine Law bars elected officials from coming together privately to discuss government business.
The proposal was intended to ensure that persons who seek county contracts, sometimes in the tens of millions of dollars, along with the administration staff who promote their approval, tell the truth in the procurement of those pacts.
"This is the public's money. This is the public's trust," Mr. Gimenez said in an interview. "For me, it's truth in procurement."
Mr. Burgess lobbied some commissioners personally and issued a memo to all commission members to defeat the proposal before the item was called to a vote at last week's meeting.
When Mr. Burgess was called for comment after the meeting, a spokesperson for him, Suzy Trutie, said: "He felt it was a bad idea."
Ms. Trutie said that the last paragraph in Mr. Burgess' memo summed up his stand on the ordinance:
"Approval of this legislation is certain to send a harmful message to the organization, its frontline staff, management and leadership; the vendors we transact business with, and most importantly the members of the public we serve. Requiring that an oath or affirmation be made prior to responding to questions or presenting information in regard to a contract will serve to diminish the public's confidence in the integrity of our purchasing processes and in our professional staff."
Mr. Burgess also wrote in his memo to the commission that past breaches in the public's trust by individuals were "dealt with through appropriate disciplinary action and referred to investigative authorities, where appropriate."
He insisted that "county staff exercises sound professional judgment consistent with the highest standards of professionalism, excellence and integrity."
Commissioner Joe A. Martinez, who voted no, said the proposed ordinance was "not an item I believe in."
Also voting no were commissioners Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Natacha Seijas, Dennis C. Moss, Dorrin D. Rolle and Audrey M. Edmonson.
Mr. Martinez said he works closely with administration staff and department directors and supporting the ordinance would be counterproductive.
"It would be a slap in the face to a lot of people we work with and count on day in and day out," Mr. Martinez said. "It would be detrimental."
Commissioner Sally A. Heyman, who voted for the proposed ordinance, said the matter should have gone to committee. She was joined by commissioners Katy Sorenson, Javier D. Souto and Mr. Gimenez.
"I don't find it offensive," she said, adding that zoning hearings employ an oath. "He [Mr. Burgess] actively opposed it instead of letting it go through the committee process, so we could dialog on it."
She added that she was surprised County Mayor Carlos Alvarez didn't support the ordinance because he campaigned on procurement reform.
"I thought this [ordinance] was a positive direction," she said. "I was hoping it would pass on first reading."
Mr. Gimenez said that under commission rules he cannot revive the ordinance for at least six months.
"I may revive it," he said. "We'll see what happens."