Charter Report Draws Fire With Seijas Claims Commission Slighted
Written by Lou Ortiz on February 21, 2008
By Lou Ortiz
A final report by the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Charter Review Task Force Tuesday turned into a lambasting of the panel by a commissioner, who accused the task force of not fully doing its job while badmouthing the county commission.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas was the lone commission member who found fault with the task force led by Victor Diaz Jr., who led the 17-member panel over a seven-month period, ending on Jan. 29.
Mr. Diaz went to the commission meeting to formally present the task force report and highlight several of the panel’s recommendations to reform county government.
But after Mr. Diaz received accolades and thanks from most of the 13-member county commission, Ms. Seijas accused the task force of not addressing the balance of power issue between the commissioners and the mayor, saying it was one of the most important matters before the charter panel.
"I don’t feel like everyone feels," Ms. Seijas said. "I was absolutely appalled" that the balance of power issue was not addressed, she said. "I thought that was the most important charge."
"You did a lot of other things that I don’t know where they came from," Ms. Seijas said about some of the panel’s recommendations.
She also said task force members accused the county commission, in part, of being corrupt. "I was appalled," she added "by the way the people [task force] treated us as commissioners… what they said."
After Ms. Seijas’ comments, Commissioner Sally A. Heyman, like the majority, lauded the task force, saying: "I find your suggestions incredibly timely and relevant to good government."
Reform, efficient and transparent government was the goal of the task force through its recommendations, Mr. Diaz told commissioners.
"There is a strong desire in this community for reform," he said. "The time is now for charter reform."
The task force came up with 18 recommendations for charter reform, but Mr. Diaz focused on five, which he said were most significant.
Those recommendations include asking voters to make commissioners full-time and limiting them to two terms; appointing a task force to come up with a countywide incorporation plan; and not moving the Urban Boundary Development Line without approval by three-fourths of the commission.
The recommendation on the UBD line also calls for creating an independent panel every five years to study whether the line should be moved, and, if so, putting the matter before voters.
The other significant proposals would allow future charter task force review panels to place ballot questions directly before voters — bypassing the commission which can kill such proposals — and precluding commissioners from adopting changes to the charter petition process that would limit residents’ ability to seek reform.
Mr. Diaz said residents are tired of their distrust of county government and the waste of taxpayer money.
"Answer the sentiment in the community for charter reform," he told commissioners. "They want to see county government improved."
While commissioners lauded Mr. Diaz’s work and that of the task force, they didn’t promise that the recommendations would be adopted or put to voters, only that commissioners would consider them.
"Don’t give up on us," Commissioner Katy Sorenson told Mr. Diaz. "Not all your recommendations will pass or go to voters, but they will be given serious consideration."
The Miami-Dade charter, akin to a constitution, is reviewed every five years. Work by the recent task force is the first since the county changed to a strong mayor form of government in January 2006.
The final recommendations include:
nKeeping the Public Safety Director, Supervisor of Elections and Tax Collector as appointed positions. Miami-Dade voters decided in January to make the Property Appraiser an elected office.
nAsking county voters to make county commissioners full-time, limiting them to two four-year terms, and paying them a salary of $91,995.
nMaintaining the current 13 single-member commission districts, versus electing them at-large.
nAsking commissioners to appoint an independent task force to come up with a countywide incorporation plan by 2009, and putting the proposal to voters in 2010.
nAllowing future charter task forces to put recommendations directly before voters and bypassing commissioners, who can ignore or reject task force proposals so that they never reach voters.
nAsking Miami-Dade voters to decide whether to extend to 120 days the time citizens have to collect signatures for charter amendments, and whether public hearings should first be held on the proposed initiatives.
nAllowing voters to decide whether to shift approval of citizen initiatives for charter changes from commissioners to the Clerk of the Court.
nAsking voters whether the county should enlist hearing officers to make final determinations on bid protests, subject to appeal to the commission on a limited basis.
nNot moving the Urban Development Boundary line for specific development projects unless three-fourths of the county commission approves, and appointing an independent panel every five years to determine where the line should be drawn. If only a simple majority of commissioners approves the boundary change suggested by the panel, the issue would be put before voters.
nLetting county voters decide whether zoning applications should first be heard by Community Councils, with appeals heard by a hearing officer and coming to the county commission for further appeal on a limited basis.