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Front Page » Opinion » Commissions Charter Choice Is Clear Vote For Democracy

Commissions Charter Choice Is Clear Vote For Democracy

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Written by on July 17, 2008

They’ll also be deciding whether to feed you instead 11 of their own homebrewed remedies that could change the county in radically different ways than those experts suggest.

You may never get to see most of the 11 proposals that a serious, impartial and dedicated charter review team studied, heard expert testimony on and debated for six months. Team members feared as much.

Some commissioners say candidly that they’re afraid if voters got a chance, they’d vote yes. Instead, they want to subvert the work of the study team — most of whom they appointed — and hand you a pack of changes they’ve pulled out of thin air.

Whatever the commission passes Friday goes on the Nov. 4 ballot. Whichever options voters then OK wind up in the county charter, our equivalent of a constitution, engraved in stone unless they go on the ballot again.

By law, every five years a team must review the charter and recommend changes to vote on. The 21-member team reported Jan. 29. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who was on the team, put some — but not all — of those proposals on the commission agenda April 3. Other commissioners threw in an equal number of alternates.

Now, nearly a year after the charter review began, commissioners are deciding how much of its work they’ll let you vote on.

The review team’s proposals piece by piece would alter the county. Among its recommendations that commissioners will either let you vote on or will kill outright Friday:

nMake commissioner a fulltime job paid the $91,995 that other big-county Florida commissioners get instead of the current $6,000 salary, and limit office to two consecutive four-year terms.

That would end lifetime office-holding as well as a pay system that cynics now term $6,000 and all you can steal.

Commissioners have their own plans for you instead.

Jose "Pepe" Diaz would let commissioners choose whether to keep outside jobs and a $6,000 salary or take $91,995 with no outside jobs. There’d be no term limits.

Another alternate, by Chairman Bruno Barreiro, also would let a commissioner choose fulltime or part-time service but set fulltime salary at $119,777. There’d be no term limit.

But wait. Still another Barreiro plan would mirror the charter team’s recommendation but limit commissioners to three four-year terms, not two.

A Sally Heyman variant would take the charter team’s proposal but allow commissioners 20 hours outside work a week and then give them up to three four-year terms.

So much for heeding experts or the legally appointed charter team.

nGuarantee future charter review teams that anything they pass by a two-thirds margin would go to voters. That would eliminate commission censorship.

Commissioners in April made clear there’s no way they’ll give voters a say on anything without a commission seal of approval. They noted the public wants vital changes that the commission doesn’t — and the public be damned. View the video of the meeting and your stomach will turn.

nMake it easier for the public — not just the commission — to put issues on the ballot. Guess how happy commissioners are about that.

nSet up an independent body to help oversee changes to boundaries where urban development is permitted and require an extraordinary majority commission vote to change the bounds.

Mr. Barreiro’s alternate would make the development boundary permanent. Only a vote by the people could change it.

nCreate an independent taskforce to craft a plan for every bit of the county to be within a city and put the plan on the 2010 ballot. Some commissioners now are de facto mayors of unincorporated areas, with powers far greater than those of other commissioners.

nRequire appointment of a police director who in most cases would be beyond the supervision of the mayor and manager.

nDo the same with the supervisor of elections.

The review team often wasn’t unanimous. But unless it got a big majority, it didn’t recommend anything. These studied proposals are worthy each and every one of going to you, the voter, to approve or reject.

Yes, they can be debated. They were — over and over. But the commission would be wrong-headed and anti-democratic not to let you vote.

The commission also would be disingenuous to mingle its own back-pocket plans with taskforce recommendations, misleading voters who wouldn’t know which had been carefully and impartially vetted.

Sure, some taskforce proposals oppose commission self-interest. Others, like appointment of police and elections leaders, would weaken the mayor and should please commissioners.

But the criterion shouldn’t be whether proposals augment or weaken the commission. The fact is, the charter requires that a team review the county’s structure, and it did. It deleted controversial plans itself and only suggested needs that found general agreement.

Commissioners would be undemocratic not to send these proposals to voters — don’t endorse them, just let us vote. They would be deceptive to add their own ideas to the same ballot, confusing the electorate.

Commissioners don’t have to agree with every recommendation. Neither do voters. This newspaper certainly does not.

But there is no valid reason not to let the people vote on them all — and certainly not the commission’s argument that the public has no idea what it’s doing. That is the rationale of dictatorships, not democracies.

On Friday, commissioners need to show their faith with and in the people who elected them. Otherwise, the people need not be so foolish as to elect them again.

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